What to read in isolation: Caroline Kepnes’ hypnotic thriller ‘You’

Caroline Kepnes’ bestselling novel ‘You’ (Photo: Shereads)

TheCity.ie’s Kim O’Leary gives the perfect book recommendation – with a Netflix option thrown in! – for those craving relationship drama with a thrilling twist during the coronavirus pandemic.

The current Covid-19 pandemic has left much room for paranoia amongst us, and Caroline Kepnes’ debut novel ‘You’ focuses on the dangers of paranoia and deadly obsession in the frantic search for true love in New York City.

Set in modern times in the sprawling and ever busy New York City, the novel introduces us to our main protagonist Joe Goldberg, who appears to be pretty much your ‘every day Joe’. He makes an honest living working at a bookstore in the city, and after a string of disappointing relationships, he’s ready to give true love another shot. When aspiring writer Guinevere Beck strides into the bookstore where he works, Joe is sure that he has finally met his match as they bond over literature.

But there is more to Beck than Joe could ever realise and more dark skeletons in Joe’s closet than Beck could ever guess. Their relationship soon spirals out of control as obsession and paranoia plague them both, and the darkness they unleash could have devastating consequences for everyone in their lives.

There is an impending sense of dread hanging over Kepnes’ cleverly claustrophobic debut novel, in which love takes on a whole new, dangerous meaning. 

Told from the often hypnotic perspective of Joe Goldberg, a seemingly normal Manhattan bookstore employee, the narrative is structured like a long monologue to the titular “you”: a young woman, Guinevere Beck, who becomes the object of Joe’s obsessive affection.

But Joe is hardly an old-school gentleman showing up at Beck’s door with flowers and chocolates.

In fact, Kepnes makes keen use of modern technology to chronicle Joe and Beck’s “courtship”, where Joe not only stalks her on Twitter, but hacks into her email account and after stealing her mobile phone, monitors her text messages and sometimes enters her property to poke around. In Joe’s warped mind, he’s keeping Beck safe from what he perceives as dangers in her life, particularly the clingy, wealthy Peach Salinger (yes, a relative of that Salinger); Beck’s hard-partying ex, Benji; and her therapist, the smooth-talking Dr. Nicky.

When Joe and Beck finally, inevitably get together, it only serves to ratchet up Joe’s predatory, possessive instincts. There’s little doubt that the relationship is doomed, but Kepnes keeps the reader guessing on just how everything will implode with some truly dark turns that make this novel a chilling page-turner and a warning for girls and guys everywhere on unsuitable suitors.

The novel was recently adapted for the screen and made its international debut on streaming giant Netflix in December 2018 with an impressive, ensemble cast of ‘Gossip Girl‘ alum Penn Badgley as hopeless romantic and sometimes stalker Joe Goldberg, Elizabeth Lail as Joe’s muse, aspiring writer Guinevere Beck, Shay Mitchell of ‘Pretty Little Liars’ fame as Beck’s spoilt best friend Peach Salinger, and John Stamos as the smooth-talking Dr Nicky, who tries to counsel Joe and Beck on their troubled relationship.

The series instantly became a hit with millennial fans, with many taking to social media to gush about the handsome and charismatic Joe Goldberg, leading to a worrying conversation about how some of us may romanticize dark, murderous characters.

‘You’ in its paperback form and on the small screen provides an in-depth and twisted look into how love can turn quickly turn into a deadly game with dark consequences.

‘You’ seasons one and two are currently streaming on Netflix.

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